Mojave: Edge of the final frontier

MOJAVE — Stuart Witt, a former test pilot who runs the airport in this weathered desert town, was working at his desk when he heard the explosion.

“I turned and looked out the window,” said Witt, 54. “There was a trace of dust in the air over by the east-side test area.”

His assistant suggested it was a sonic boom, a frequent occurrence in the desert airspace near Edwards Air Force Base.

But Witt knew better. Sonic booms come in pairs. This was one loud explosion, so powerful it was heard in Palmdale, 30 miles away.

The blast, which killed three men and injured three others, occurred during a fuel-flow test in July at Scaled Composites, the famed aerospace company that is building a suborbital rocket plane for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space line.

For this desert hamlet of 3,700, located, as they say, “a full tank of gas and a full bladder north of Los Angeles,” it was a space-age wake-up call.

Fifty years after the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik 1 into space, Mojave has found itself at the center of a private space race that boosters say is as important — and risky — as the nationalistic race between the Soviets and the United States.

Source:  Los Angeles Times

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